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Lunar bases may need to be quake-proof (2006) (nasa.gov)
69 points by curtis 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments



This will probably be a very unpopular point of view here on HN, but I think it needs to be said: if we can't figure out how to build a long-term sustainable society here on earth, there is no way we're going to be able to build a long-term sustainable society on the moon, or anywhere else. And the only way to build a long-term sustainable society is to figure out how to build an economy that does not rely on exponential growth. We haven't done that yet, and until we do, no technology will save us. Even if we could colonize new planets at will and expand at the speed of light, that only gives us polynomial (t^2) resources. Polynomial resources can never sustain exponential growth. Worrying about moonquakes is the ultimate bikeshedding.


The biggest road block to building a sustainable society is that we have to make changes to the well and truly entrenched non-sustainable society we already have.

If you were starting fresh on a new planet that doesn't have instantaneous communications or easy travel options with Earth, it would be a lot easier to build a fundamentally different society.

Moving off Earth might actually be the easiest way to achieve what you're talking about.


> if we can't figure out how to build a long-term sustainable society here on earth, there is no way we're going to be able to build a long-term sustainable society on the moon

I have to ask, what do you mean by sustainability here? Biological life has existed on earth for about 2 billion years, the human race for a million years and civilization for thousands of years. So in what sense is life on earth not sustainable, and what would have to change for you to consider it sustainable?

In the ultimate long run life anywhere isn't sustainable; the sun will eventually die and then the universe itself will experience heat death. So what's your cut off?


Not OP, but most discussions focus on the sustainability of an advanced technological society, usually paired with something resembling a liberal democratic political system.

I very much recommend William Ophuls, Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity (1977) and Plato's Revenge (2004). He delivers the essential message of Limits to Growth in a chapter (TL;DR: there are limits to growth, get used to it), and explores the rather more interesting elements of the political dynamics of this.

Yes, life on earth has existed. Actually, for closer to 4 billion years. For the first 3.5 billion of those, there was little more complex than a single-celled organism, and those managed to just about destory the place (Great Oxygenation Event, Snowball Earth). The cycle's been repeated a few times since.

Humans are accelerating that process greatly this go-round.

http://www.worldcat.org/title/ecology-and-the-politics-of-sc...

http://www.worldcat.org/title/platos-revenge-politics-in-the...


>what do you mean by sustainability

Biological life existed for 5 orders of magnitude longer than civilization without the sort of devastating consequence civilization has wrought.

The cut off is civilization suggesting that it is no more disruptive than biological life to the long term sustainability of itself, but that is just obviously not looking like the case right now. Exponential population growth in a resource-constrained system will hit a limit and the result will not be pretty.


> Biological life existed for 5 orders of magnitude longer than civilization without the sort of devastating consequence civilization has wrought.

That is far from scientifically certain. Out of the extremely numerous extinction events in Earth's history, 5 of them have been extremely major, and we are probably going through the 6th right now. Probably. It's still too early to make statements about this. Will the geological record of the age of humans be more pronounced than the other events? Probably, but we can't claim that wearing a scientist hat. It's even more dubious to claim that this 6th event will have a more strongly negative effect on biodiversity. Things are happening so fast, and once all is said and done, humans may ultimately increase the diversity of Earth-derived life, because we have the ability to recombine existing species and even bring back functional extinct ones. It all depends on how we manage from here on out.


"Exponential population growth in a resource-constrained system" is how biological systems have behaved for billions of years. It may not be pretty but very natural.


True. But also: natural sucks, and we want a better outcome.


> without the sort of devastating consequence civilization has wrought

First, define "devastating consequence" in clear terms. Then, and only then, go search the web for "oxygen catastrophe".


> So in what sense is life on earth not sustainable

Does this answer your question? https://ecology2011tamara2011sp.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/...


This argument is nonsense. Maybe the problems of our society is rooted in history and institutions and a fresh start is what's required. Maybe an equitable society requires a frontier to satisfy some aspect of human psyche and provide fresh ideas.

I could spend all afternoon coming up with alternative explanations. Ultimately your point of view is not popular on HN because it amounts to the logical fallacy of whataboutism and is a rude change of subject.


We discovered new frontiers many times in the past. First America was one, then the American West was one. None of them fixed the problem. Why should a new frontier be any different?


Both coincided with with revolutions in free thinking and civil liberties (first the enlightenment of the 17th century then the anti-monarchy reforms of the 19th century), and massive growths in prosperity. Coincidence? Maybe. 2 data points is not a lot to go on.


Humanity will find equilibrium one way or another. Exponential growth is merely a symptom of an insufficiently hostile environment.


Hawking argues that due to the fact that we can't have a long term sustainable earth we need a backup in the form of a moon base and or mars outpost .


> And the only way to build a long-term sustainable society is to figure out how to build an economy that does not rely on exponential growth.

Oh, there was - look back in ancient history, with tribes using only what they needed in terms of resources and land (and for what its worth, some of these cultures still exist in remote places). The problem is capitalism and the imperialism that rose with it, beginning in Ancient Rome. By now, it's deeply ingrained into our societies, even those who call themselves "communist". I believe that only the natural constraints of a moon/Mars base, together with their initially small population, will force the settlers to cooperate on equal basis and thus lead to a small-scale sustainable economy.

The only problem is, small colonies won't be sustainable in genetic terms: there will be an "incest bottleneck", and the only way to solve this is to expand the population base - where the effects of a capitalist society will become apparent again more sooner than later...


Why do you think you need to do that? You can import sperm and eggs.


Because it's unsafe to depend on Earth providing said sperm and eggs - that a highly technologically advanced civilization as the Roman Empire could basically disappear with all their knowledge (e.g. running water, sewage channels, street building and other) in less than a hundred years should be a warning that this can also happen to Earth now. All it takes is an all-out nuclear war, an asteroid strike or a catastrophic volcano eruption.

And I'm not sure if it's wise to send sperm/eggs via space craft... while "inside a human" the cells are protected from radiation and especially they're (re)generated, not so much when they're frozen in space.


Amen. Not only that, I'm tired of hearing about going to Mars when we can't get to our own moon anymore or sustain a colony there.


Different risks: using up all resources (running out of fossil fuels) vs an instantaneous mistake/disaster (global fallout some some weapon, or an asteroid, or freak solar flare, or something like that). Colonizing another planet protects against the latter and probably shouldn't be dismissed simply because it is not yet a solution to the former.


Piggy-backing on this a bit with respect to the article, moon bases will need to be quake-proof because, given long-standing and continuing human behavior (and arguably, life's behavior, at its most fundamental level), they will need to be bomb-proof.


I think your first argument about sustainability has a key issue: An enormous proportion of Earth's current issues are historic in origin. The population explosion is a result of rapid development in SE Asia and Africa - developed societies hit steady state populations and actually shrink without immigration. Climate change is extremely real and dangerous, but ultimately historic. A society starting fresh from our current level of development, particularly one populated primarily by explorers on a foreign planet, will carefully find and account for externalities like damaging emissions. Automation-derived unemployment is the most historic crisis imaginable - the result is unalloyed paradise if you don't have a suddenly penniless underclass to account for or a societal structure obsessed with puritan work ethic.

Your argument about new resource growth is interesting, but misses A) the previously mentioned steady state populations of developed society disproves the 'population explosion' and B) the enormous efficiency gains we'll reap from expansion to new worlds.

For me at least, the drive to expand isn't Malthusian, it's roughly cultural. If you buy into Hirschman's Voice and Exit dichotomy[0], a frontier provides the ultimate exit to society's current structure. We're observing the effects of a voiceless society with no exit right now, and it's far from good. The last great round of expansion birthed all sorts of new societal structures, some of which ultimately out-competed those of the old world and now dominate this world.

Lastly, beyond the social/cultural effects of the frontier, this frontier in particular is going to be really, really good for our technological development. The absolute quantity of resources available to us will only grow as n^2, but specific resources will grow by unimaginable factors within that. Platinum group metals will plummet in price[1], orbital manufacturing will enable amazing new materials, and built-in-space orbital structures are too transformative to even try predicting [3].

It's possible (though I don't buy it) that Earth society is unsustainable and doomed. Whether that's true or not, I think it has little bearing on our ability to create a 10,000x smaller society off Earth (1mm humans to start), and I think such a parallel society off-Earth would be enormously helpful in making Earth sustainable. Both through the effects of a frontier, and simple technological advancement.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exit,_Voice,_and_Loyalty [1]: http://www.businessinsider.com/goldman-sachs-space-mining-as... [2]: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/research/experime... [3]: http://madeinspace.us/archinaut/


Problem is, immediately after the colonies become self sustainable, they will want independence and eventually become more powerful than earth.


This is too out there to predict with any hope of accuracy, but I suspect/hope planets will have a sort of anti-MAD, mutual perfect defensibility.

Orbit is a very offense-biased environment. It's much easier to hit a ship / missile with some high velocity pebbles and ruin its day than it is to survive those pebbles. New tech could radically shift that balance, but I don't think it will.

As long as war in orbit works like that, what you get is WW1-esque. An enormous no mans land with no cover and ample weaponry pointed at it. Now, if people are really insistent on fighting an offensive war that'll be WW1 style terrible. But I'm hopeful the only wars we'll see will be for independence, and that dynamic will just destroy the will to enforce control over distant bodies.


Sustainability also equals controlling population growth. It means following Japan's lead into stabilizing population growth --even taking it into decline and into a sustainable population.


No, it doesn't.

Overpopulation is a non-issue, because it's not population itself which is a problem for sustainability, but rather resource consumption. Which, unsurprisingly, is vastly higher per person in places without an “overpopulation” problem (“developed countries”) than in places “with” one (“undeveloped countries”).

Overpopulation is a way of blaming the rest of the world for the industrialised world's problems.


Thing is we're not going to get people in China or Europe (largest pops) back to agricultural societies of the 1920's. That's not gonna happen. And we're not about to tell people in rural India and rural Africa, sorry, you're too late. You can't aspire to live like us or your rich city dwellers.

So since we would like to have everyone live a "comfortable" life, we'll need to slow the growth so that we have enough to pass around.

Xiao-ping Deng knew the path to growth included slowing pop growth. See China dev vs Indian dev and growth. Costa Rica vs Guatemala, etc.


> Thing is we're not going to get people in China or Europe (largest pops) back to agricultural societies of the 1920's.

This is a silly straw man. Who says we can't reduce our resource usage without destroying modern society? Our massive amounts of waste are not necessary to our way of life.

> And we're not about to tell people in rural India and rural Africa, sorry, you're too late. You can't aspire to live like us or your rich city dwellers.

Except you are saying that, because you're suggesting they shouldn't be allowed to have as many children as they'd like.


>This is a silly straw man. Who says we can't reduce our resource usage without destroying modern society? Our massive amounts of waste are not necessary to our way of life.

Modern society can become more "efficient;" produce less waste per cap. But we can't bring everyone (and their future pop growth) into this lifestyle without enviro impact. We can achieve it if high growth pops reduce growth and we all aim for more efficient lifestyles.

>Except you are saying that, because you're suggesting they shouldn't be allowed to have as many children as they'd like.

Nope. I'm saying like China, they can if they curtail pop growth. Compare the trajectories of China and India.


How do you think China “curtailed population growth”?


The most reliable way to decrease population growth seems to be raising standards of living. Wealthier, more educated people have fewer children.


> China or Europe (largest pops)

Population of China: 1.4 billion

Population of Europe: 0.74 billion

Population of India: 1.3 billion

Europe isn't all that populous. And why compare an aggregation like "Europe" anyway? Tropical Africa is also more populous than Europe is. Southeast Asia is less populous, but not a lot less.


(I meant geo regions with developed econs, India is still in its infancy --its pop is not yet accustomed to near-middle class lifestyles) I think the context makes that clear.


It seems that way but in practice it seems to be an issue.

I mean we're actually doing things like eating all the nice fish in the ocean, chopping down all the Forrest for farm land, then there is the idea that people do need some space to be happen, living in the city is easier when you know you can escape to a secluded place, but that's becoming harder to do.


Our eggs are currently all in one celestial basket. We need to try, desperately, to ensure that the human race does not go extinct (by fault of our own or otherwise). This means an alternative habitat.

We've gotten really good at terraforming the Earth (unintentionally) and killing each other (intentionally) in the past century. In particular, one man has the power to end the world, he has no political experience, and he is in the White House. If we have a nuclear holocaust, the only silver lining can be in human populations on other celestial bodies. Hence, it is in the best long-term interest of humanity to go to the Moon and Mars - to ensure our survival.


> Our eggs are currently all in one celestial basket. We need to try, desperately, to ensure that the human race does not go extinct (by fault of our own or otherwise). This means an alternative habitat.

Killing off humanity requires killing off 99.9999% of the population in a short amount of time. There is no plausible scenario that can do that: nuclear weapons won't do it, biological warfare won't do it, bolide impacts even at the scale of the Sudbury or Chicxulub probably can't do it.


Fair enough. Though personally, I care less about end of human race, and more about end of technological civilization. Life is resilient, but if we nuke ourselves back to the stone age, then frankly, what's the point?


There's a good chance that a nuclear exchange would result in a nuclear winter, and in the process drastically decrease the amount of arable land. In the worst case, agriculture could become impossible entirely.

You might say that the science on the nuclear winter effect isn't anywhere near settled... why take the chance?

I like to have faith in humanity but this is a bit too much.


Even in an absolute worst-case scenario there will still be more arable land on earth than on the moon or Mars.


What about a gamma ray burst?


Should only affect the half of the Earth facing the burst


not that I think this part of the argument is going anywhere, but, https://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/wp-content/uploads/pix/user_images...


Not that I don't think we could all be killed off


Agreed, we need a multi-planetary omlett.



Extreme scarcity is a good driver of sustainability. Maybe colonisation will help develop technology that makes living on earth more sustainable.


Interesting. Never heard of that before. I didn't think there could be regular quaking in non-seismically-active bodies.

> March 15, 2006: NASA astronauts are going back to the moon

This broke my heart.


According to the article, the moon is seismically active.

> That's the surprising conclusion of Clive R. Neal, associate professor of civil engineering and geological sciences at the University of Notre Dame after he and a team of 15 other planetary scientists reexamined Apollo data from the 1970s. "The moon is seismically active," he told a gathering of scientists at NASA's Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) meeting in League City, Texas, last October.


Building a moon colony seems far more practical and useful than a Martian one. On both you'd need pressure domes, shielding, etc., so why not be a couple days away rather than a year? You can have a much quicker cycle of trying and adapting than on Mars, a couple orders of magnitude faster.

Because of the moon's low gravity, it is a fine place for manufacturing big, heavy equipment for space travel.

And lastly, the technology developed for a sustainable moon base ought to transfer well to Mars.


I used to be of the same opinion as you, but there are actually some good counter arguments:

1) Two week day/night cycle: This means it would be hard to power your base with solar energy. You'd need massive battery banks. Or another power source. You could try nuclear, but cooling might be a challenge without air or water. Mars has a slightly longer day than earth, which makes solar power much more viable (though solar insolation is less than on earth)

2) No atmosphere, so all Oxygen has to be brought in (unless we find it somewhere else on the Moon). Also any carbon needed to grow plants needs to be brought in. Mars has a thin atmosphere, but we could get Oxygen and Carbon from it.

3) It's not clear if we can find water on the moon. Mars almost certainly has water underground, and for sure at the pole.

4) The lower gravity might have long term effects on humans. Though to be fair, we don't know if Mars gravity will be harmful as well.


Ironically, a lot more on-the-ground investigation has been done on Mars than the moon. I suspect there's a lot more useful stuff waiting to be found. All we've looked at from the moon are a few pounds of rocks from a handful of sites.


Why not have both? :) as far as "backup of human civilization" goes though, Mars has more potential: water, atmosphere (thin though it may be), higher gravity, and a day similar to earth. If the s ever htf on earth, a mars colony has a better chance of surviving one day without earth's help.

I guess for me the question is if that will matter or we get strong AI first.


> so why not be a couple days away rather than a year

Hm, maybe because you'd get twice the gravity and a "day" that lasts closer to 24 hours than 24 days?


Does the diurnal cycle matter if you must stay within a shielded dome?

Lower gravity doesn't matter as much if you can be regularly cycled back to earth.


Why would they turn off those seismometers? What a shame.


The seismometers were part of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Packages (ALSEPs), which were powered by radioisotope thermal generators. RTGs use the heat from decaying radioactive elements to produce power, and gradually produce less energy over time as the isotopes decay into more stable elements. By 1977 the ALSEP RTGs were only producing enough power to run either one experimental package or the radio transmitter at once; they probably would have stopped working altogether in a few more years anyway and it's better to have a controlled shutdown rather than a failing radio transmitter cluttering up the airwaves. Wikipedia also mentions "budgetary considerations", and apparently they wanted the ALSEP control room for another project as well.

Edit: I've just found [1], which adds a few additional details: first, they were designed for a lifetime of one year, so 1977 was well beyond their expected activity; and second, after they were decommissioned they continued to send carrier signals (but no data) which were used for various purposes.

[1]: https://www.hq.nasa.gov/alsj/HamishALSEP.html

More detail than you ever wanted to know can be found in the ALSEP termination report: https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/misc/documents/b32116.pdf


What kind of isotopes was nasa putting in their ALSEPs that the output dropped off over mere years?


They were using Plutonium 238, which is the most common RTG fuel. The Wikipedia page on RTGs has a fairly comprehensive overview of the possible candidate fuels[1]; one advantage of 238Pu is that it requires the least amount of shielding, an important consideration when launching things into space.

Pages 101-105 of the termination report I linked to above have the power output curves for the various RTGs, showing the decay curve (1 lunation ~= 1 month).

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radioisotope_thermoelectric_ge...


Please add 2006


Thanks! Updated.




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